Preparing for College

Should Newlywed-to-Be Apply to College Before or After Gap Year?

Question: I plan to get married after I graduate high school and spend a gap year saving money and traveling, etc. Should I apply to colleges now? Or should I wait until after my gap year? Will a college I apply to now be likely to accept my application a year from now?

Many counselors are likely to tell you to apply to college now, while you still have easy access to your teachers, guidance counselor, etc. And, indeed, I used to agree. But over the years, I’ve started to change my tune. For seniors who seem to know exactly what they want or where they hope to be when their gap year is over, then applying to college while still in high school is probably the wisest route. But often new interests and preferences grow out of a year off, and the Internet facilitates contact with high school staff, even from distant corners of the world. So, increasingly, I’m suggesting a wait … especially in your case … and for several reasons.

For starters, many admission officers are going to raise their eyebrows with skepticism once they hear that you are about to be married. They may wonder how you will juggle newly-wedded life with the demands of college, especially at such a young age. They may also wonder if your plans to get married will pan out as expected and how any changes that occur might affect your educational goals.

So I think that your best bet would be to wait until after you’re married and are in the throes of your gap year before you file your applications. This way, you can report to colleges what you are doing, rather than what you expect to do, which ought to make you a stronger candidate.

Moreover, as a married college student you will probably be eligible for a lot more financial aid—should you need it—than you would be as a single applicant. Colleges treat married students as “emancipated,” and thus they consider your income and your spouse’s—but not your parents’—when assessing financial need. If you and your husband have lower earnings and assets than your parents do, this will work in your favor when financial aid determinations are made. (But it doesn’t mean that your parents can’t help pay for your education, if they are in a position to do so.)

Finally, as a teenager with wedding plans, you have probably already gotten more advice than you want, especially from those who are citing dismal teen-marriage statistics and urging you to proceed with caution. However, I’m going to toss out one more warning: If you expect to be in school full time while your husband is working, keep in mind that this can bring added stress to the relationship. You two may have strikingly different schedules. He will come home at the end of the day ready to relax or socialize while you will need quiet time to do your school work. If you are both in school, it may mean smoother scheduling but could put added economic pressure on the household.

Thus, hopefully, by taking a gap year after high school and postponing your college applications, you will gain a greater sense of what your goals for the years beyond will be and of how you and your fiancé can facilitate them together.

Good luck to you, whatever you decide.

(posted 12/1/2011)